The Miserís Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon

The Great Gas-Out

For misers, this is bad news. The campaign says to buy no gasoline on April 30th, (1999) but instead buy it the day before or after. Result? The oil companies will sell exactly the same amount of product, profits are unaffected, and if the event fizzles, they will have additional proof they can charge any amount they want for gasoline and diesel fuel with impunity. That means we will pay more for automotive fuels in the future. If the event is successful, consumers will have vented some of their anger without any harm to the oil companies.

If you want to save money on operating your car, forget the "Gas-Out". Instead, do some of the following.

Fill up your car with ethanol blend fuel. This will reduce your fossil-fuel consumption by 5 to 10% immediately. You wonít save at the pump immediately, but if overall demand for gasoline drops by 5%, this should help reduce gasoline prices over time by reducing demand.

Reduce the amount you drive. The less you drive, the less fuel you use. Use mass-transit, car-pool, walk, or bicycle when appropriate. Do your comparison shopping by telephone or computer instead of driving from store to store. If you drive to work, see if you could work from home one day a week, telecommuting, or catching up on reading - this would reduce your commuting fuel use by 20%. Combine errands and plan your trips to reduce the distance traveled. If you can reduce the distance your vehicle is driven significantly, you may qualify for reduced insurance premiums as well.

Slow down to posted speed limits. The amount of energy required to overcome aerodynamic drag goes up with the cube of speed. You could also avoid a collision or a speeding ticket.

Install a "fuel consumption gauge" on your vehicle. When you can see how your driving habits are affecting how much fuel you are consuming, any miser will change their driving behaviour to reduce fuel consumption. Accelerate gently, travel at a speed to make good use of synchronized traffic lights, coast up to red lights. This approach will also reduce the wear on your brakes. Avoid driving during "rush hour" as much as you can. A stopped car with an idling engine is operating at 0 efficiency.

If the vehicle will be stopped for more than 60 seconds, shut off the engine. It takes less fuel to restart than to idle for one minute.

Check the inflation on your tires at least once a month. You cannot tell by looking at radial tires if they are at the correct pressure. Make sure they are at the recommended pressure, or even a bit higher if the majority of your trips are short. This can reduce fuel use by up to 5%. Check the spare while you are at it.

If you moved a lot of stuff to get to the spare, consider whether you need all that stuff in your vehicle. It takes energy (fuel) to accelerate and move that extra weight.

Have your vehicle "tuned up" on a regular basis. Dirty gas filters, air filters, fouled spark plugs, dragging brakes, bad ignition components, improper timing and mis-aligned tires will all reduce the distance you travel on a litre of fuel.

When shopping for a vehicle, buy the most fuel-efficient one that meets the majority of your needs. A light truck or sport utility vehicle may consume 3 times as much as an economy car to cover the same distance. If your main driving mission is carrying 1 or 2 people and a little cargo, an economy car will save you money. Fuel efficient vehicles usually cost much less to buy and service as well. If you need a large vehicle a few times a year, rent it (or better, borrow it). It will cost you less.

Is it worth the effort? If you drive a mid-size gas vehicle that consumes 10 litres per 100 km on average (thatís probably optimistic), and you drive 20,000 km a year, your annual fuel consumption will be 2,000 litres a year. If gasoline costs $0.50 per litre (also optimistic), thatís $1,000 out of your pocket (about $20 a week) . If you can save just 20% of that, thatís $200 back in your pocket. If half of us did that, overall gasoline consumption would drop 10% and that would be noticed by the oil companies. Of course, the environment will also benefit from reduced air and water pollution, and reduced greenhouse gases.